Modest Price Hikes Lead to Major Protests

Protests on four continents leave questions about the state of the global economy

Michelle Klieger
Oct 28, 2019 · 3 min read
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Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Newspapers from The Guardian to The South China Morning Post are talking about more and more protests around the world. The playbook for each event is very similar. First, there’s an event that seems small, but upsets a lot of people. In Hong Kong, it was an extradition bill. In Chile, it was a $0.04 fare increase on metro tickets. In Lebanon, it was a tax on Voice over IP calls. And in India, onion inflation is skyrocketing.

Then, young people begin protesting. They are organizing through encrypted messaging apps and filling the streets to protest the proposed measures or government corruption. In most cases, the government reverses its course. Hong Kong pulled the extradition bill. Chile and Lebanon canceled the taxes and India has put severe measures in place to manage the price of onions. However, in each of these situations, it is too little, too late. The protesters have not backed down.

Most of the unrest starts around economic concerns. Young people are taking action because of higher income inequality around the globe and concerns about the future job market. The problem is that according to most global metrics the international economy is doing relatively well. According to the International Monetary Fund, the gross world product, the combined gross national product of all the countries in the world, has increased by 3% or more every year since 2009.

This number suggests that workers, even young workers, should be in a better position than they were a decade ago. However, the cost of living in most cities is increasing faster than the economic prospects of most of the protesters. In this story, all roads lead to income inequality. From the increased global dissent, it is clear that the healthy global economy is not helping everyone. The real concern is what happens when the global economy starts showing signs that it is slowing down. If modest price increases are already causing protests and riots what happens when the global economy stops growing by more than 3% annually?

Pulling the trigger quicker

If the last few months are any measure, the future will have even more protests. Why? The global economy cannot keep expanding indefinitely. Plus, trade disputes are putting pressure on the economy, weakening it in most cases. Slower growth or worse, contraction, will cause more people to face economic hardship.

Another reason that protests will spread is that technology is connecting communities around the globe. In the last 30 years, technological advances have increased the influence of civil societies and NGOs by allowing groups that were domestically focused to expand their influence internationally. Youth around the world are able to create a shared identity through online groups and social networks.

These groups can share information, ideas, tactics, and expert opinions instantly with other parts of the world. In the past, people would travel to other parts of the world to train with resistance or change leaders. Then they would return home and push for change. Today, technology has cut the time and cost of gaining political know-now dramatically. Groups can join forces transnationally to achieve the same goal.

On the surface, these isolated protests might appear to be unrelated. However, if an unhappy young adult in one country sees successful protestors in another part of the world, he or she may be inspired. The two individuals or movements can easily communicate and share tips and strategies. Since youth are leading these movements and youth are the best at transforming the uses of technology, it’s easy to make the leap that social media and the internet is making it easier for more protests to pop up.

Originally published at on October 28, 2019.

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